What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
In the well-known story of Cain and Abel, the first man born on the earth also becomes the first murderer. A few points in this account are significant:
- Cain killed Abel after a quarrel over a sacrifice to God. Cain brought a sacrifice, but God would not accept it because it did not meet His standards. While Abel's offering showed his complete submission to God, Cain's hints at grudging worship of God - and that done in his own way.
- Becoming angry and sullen over his rejection, he quarreled with and killed his brother. Then, he lied to God's face! He had no fear of God or the consequences of sin.
- Cain's retort to God's inquiry as to Abel's whereabouts is also significant: "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain's attitude of indifference toward his fellow man greatly influenced later generations.
- Coupled with his entirely selfish attitude, Cain tried to take advantage even of God's curse upon him. Using a "woe is me" ploy, he "convinced" God to guard his life from anyone avenging Abel's murder.
The way of Cain - idolatry, murder, deceit, selfishness, hypocrisy - saturated Pre-Flood society to the point that God, seeing the wickedness of man, regretted He had even created humanity (Genesis 6:5-7).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'As It Was In the Days of Noah'
Genesis 27 recounts the story of Jacob's tricking of the elderly, blind Isaac into giving him the patriarchal blessing instead of bestowing it on his older-by-mere-minutes twin brother Esau, who was the rightful heir. The "she" mentioned here is Rebekah, Isaac's wife and the mother of the two young men.
Part of the background of the story is that the two parents played favorites (Genesis 25:28): Isaac preferred Esau and his "manly pursuits," while Rebekah favored Jacob, who is described as "a mild man, dwelling in tents" (Genesis 25:27), suggesting that he was more refined and that his aptitudes were more mental than physical. This favoritism put the couple at odds on at least one score, who would inherit the patriarchy after Isaac's death. Isaac evidently thought Esau the better candidate, since he was the older and stronger. His wife felt Jacob better suited to the position, being more cunning and skillful in business and management. It also spurred rivalry between the sons.
Jacob had revealed his cunning when he had bargained the birthright from Esau some time before (Genesis 25:29-34). He made cynical use of Esau's famished state to finagle the lucrative—even precious—birthright from his brother, who the Bible says did not value it highly enough: "Esau despised his birthright" (Genesis 25:34; see Hebrews 12:16-17). The birthright was the firstborn's double portion of inheritance. (Jacob later passed this birthright on to Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh; see Genesis 48.)
Earlier in Genesis 27, Isaac had sent Esau out to hunt for game to make his favorite stew, after which he would pronounce the blessing on him. Rebekah knew that this gave her time to make her own stew from the meat of young goats to imitate Esau's dish and to prepare Jacob to disguise himself as his hairy brother (see Genesis 25:25). Jacob was a "smooth-skinned man" (Genesis 27:11) by comparison to Esau, so he would need, not only to wear his brother's clothes so that he smelled like him, but also to apply hair to the backs of his hands and neck to make the ruse work.
So, Rebekah evidently adhered the skins of the freshly killed kids to Jacob's hands and neck, perhaps even sewing them to her son's cuffs and collar so that Isaac would never think that the hair he felt was not genuine. With the short time she had to work with, she went to great lengths to ensure that Jacob received the blessing—and even then Isaac nearly guessed the truth when Jacob could not imitate Esau's voice well enough (Genesis 27:22).
Perhaps what God said in Genesis 25:23 motivated Rebekah: "Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger." She knew that God had ordained Jacob to lead the family (see Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:10-13). However, like Sarah before her, Rebekah took matters into her own hands rather than allowing God to work matters out so that Jacob would receive the blessing in a more ethical way.
Who knows how He would have worked it out—maybe Esau would have despised the blessing too or Isaac would have been warned by God not to bless Esau but to bestow it on Jacob at a later time. It is a moot point now. God included it in His Book so that we can learn lessons from what actually happened—lessons about the use of trickery, favoritism in families, getting ahead of God, making assumptions about what He is doing, priorities, selfish ambition, parental manipulation of their children, how one lie begets another, and so forth. We can mine a wealth of wisdom from the rivalry of Jacob and Esau.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
God continuously warns Balaam, "Do not go beyond what I tell you to do," and every time, Balaam tries to anyway. He fights God at every turn because He wants his own way. He wants the gold, the honor, and the reputation he would have by cursing Israel (who had defeated mighty Egypt and most of the nations they came in contact with). The true God was the "game in town," and if Balaam beat Him, he would be on the top of the pile. This is Balaam's plan; he was "working his magic," trying to move himself into first position among diviners.
This brings out his major flaw, one that many in the world also have. He believed that the end justifies the means. He was willing to set aside principle (if he had any) to achieve his goals. He functioned by self-interest rather than by belief or standards. His standard was "anything that is good for Balaam," which is self-righteousness and self-interest. These were the principles by which he felt he could live a successful life. He did not base them on anything godly or even ethical but strictly on human reason.
He was willing to do anything to get his way. By putting together different parts of the Bible on him, Balaam comes out smelling like manure, not roses.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)
1 Kings 12:26-27
The man possessed a real fear, but his behavior was motivated by a selfish regard for his life and his position as king and a disregard of the promise that God had made to him. God had already told him, "Obey Me, and I will establish you as king."
Obviously, Jeroboam was not walking by faith because he was more concerned about the people leaving him. Down in Jerusalem was the Temple and the brazen altar where the sacrifices were made—Jerusalem was the central location of the worship of God.
What could he do to keep the people from returning to Jerusalem and shifting their loyalty back to King Rehoboam through religion? Jeroboam was no dummy when it came to political things; he was politically astute, a real man of the world. He was as pragmatic as one can get, a practitioner of situation ethics.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Deception, Idolatry and the Feast of Tabernacles
In Amos 3:9-10, the prophet is told to proclaim the tumults, oppression, violence, and robbery in the nation. The man on the street was not too disturbed at the lack of law and order. He did not seem to realize that this cancerous immorality plaguing the country from within would result in her being crushed and destroyed from without.
However, when the time came to defend Israel from foreign invasion, Israel would have no strength (verse 11). God says, "They have blown the trumpet and made everyone ready, but no one goes to battle" (Ezekiel 7:14). Because the people were so preoccupied with their own self-interests, they did not respond to the external threat of invasion. As a result, the nation fell easily.
In our own generation, we have seen that our adversaries could not conquer us on the battlefield when our general level of morality was high. But as our moral fiber weakened between 1950 and today, they began to destroy us in the business world. Our foes in World War II, in becoming our allies during the Cold War, learned our ways and now rival or outpace us in most economic categories—not only in the area of heavy industry, but in highly technological matters as well.
As our economic power is being sapped by moral cancer, our fighting spirit is being drained too. We are no longer able to present a united front on any matter. In addition, as the United States takes on the role of sole superpower, as our troops are used to enforce United Nations policies, our military strength is exploited and thinned. In our moral and social malaise, we find rousing ourselves to action as a nation gets harder and harder to do. Our allies know we are a weak branch to lean on.
And behind all this is God, who sees our corruption and warns us that the time is near.
"Therefore thus says the Lord God: 'An adversary shall be all around the land; he shall sap your strength from you, and your palaces shall be plundered'" (Amos 3:11). "Therefore" connects the preceding verses with a conclusion or result. Tumult, oppression, violence, and robbery beget weakness and destruction. Sin is inherently self-destructive. It holds out such promise of pleasure and fulfillment, but contains within it the seeds of destruction. Whatever is sown is reaped.
Why does Amos depict Israel as a powerless nation while she was at the height of her economic, political, and military power? The nation's religion was a sham! Morality and righteousness make a nation strong, but immorality and unrighteousness will always bring it to ruin (Proverbs 14:34). Where religion is powerless, government, business, and community become ineffective because their moral undergirding is gone.
"'For they do not know to do right,' says the Lord" (Amos 3:10). Unable to tell the difference between good and evil, Israelites finally reached the point where they called evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20). Not only is this in regard to spiritual truths but also to the marketplace. While they no doubt complained about the violence, they could not see that their own selfish ambitions actually produced the violence on the streets.
Evidently, even the religious people never made the connection between the moral and social breakdown in the nation and their own selfish ambitions. They may have been embezzling from their company or overcharging their customers, but they went to church every week! That is why God says He will destroy the religious system too (Amos 3:14).
Cold, calloused, indifferent, the common Israelite just did not care about the other guy. "So what if he suffers while I enrich myself—that's life in the big city, baby!" Whether politician or businessman or religious person, all Israelites, it seems, looked at life this way. It was a view of life almost totally devoid of a social conscience. Their lifestyle glorified amorality. But, most condemning of all, it was a lifestyle diametrically opposite to that revealed by God through Moses.
We, too, need to be careful of this attitude in our own self-absorbed culture. The media even calls the "baby boom" generation the "Me Generation," and a popular magazine found in supermarket checkout lines is boldly titled Self.
Notice the repetition of "palaces" and "houses" in verses 9-11 and 15. God instructs Amos to tell the kings of foreign nations (verse 9) about the Israelites' stockpiling "violence and robbery in their palaces" against themselves (verse 10). To paraphrase, He says, "Look, My people have weakened themselves through sin! They are ripe for destruction!" God empowers the heathen, so they, as His battle-ax, will punish His people. His ultimate aim, of course, is to bring them to repentance.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
"Cows of Bashan" (Amos 4:1-4) is a figure or symbol for the Israelite women in Samaria. Amos implies that these women are the trendsetters and leaders in Israelite society, a course Judah also took before she fell (Isaiah 3:12). Apparently, when nations degenerate, leaders of society, who should be setting the standards, are replaced by women and children (or the immature), who, Isaiah says, "cause [them] to err, and destroy the way of [their] paths."
In the United States, women have traditionally been the guardians of moral standards. In general, women have had high standards, while many men have held double standards. Amos, however, shows that the women of his day had slipped so far that they were "leading the pack" in immorality. And in America, the same is true: Women are becoming just as immoral as men. Between 1990 and 1991, according to the Uniform Crime Reports for the United States, the female crime rate increased 15.2 percent while the male crime rate increased by 17.4 percent.
Apparently, God built safeguards into women to ensure that some measure of right ideals, standards, and practices are passed on to the next generation. This gives a measure of stability to a society. Men, with their mind-set of aggressive ambition and their desire to compete and conquer, tend to focus on achievement, often at the expense of morality and ethics. In general, women are not designed for this role, and when they begin to fill it, a nation is on its way down very rapidly.
Besides this, a growing number of women today pursue full-time career positions for reasons of "fulfillment," personal ambition, and social advancement, diminishing their high calling as wives and mothers. Womanhood, marriage, and homemaking (Titus 2:5) have become subservient to the selfish accumulation of things. Unfortunately, many women have to work these days just to make ends meet. Primarily, Amos is speaking to the selfish, power-hungry, ruthless women we often see portrayed on television and in movies.
Amos impolitely calls them a very demeaning name: a bunch of well-fed cows. Like cows, they are just following the herd. They are content with an animal existence; that is, they are completely carnal in their outlook (Romans 8:5-7). Their concern is only for the beautification, care, and satiation of their own bodies. They live only for themselves, not for God. Isaiah captures their attitude in a word—complacent (Isaiah 32:9-11).
Like their husbands, these cows of Bashan oppress the poor and crush the needy. By demanding more things, they push their husbands to succeed—at the expense of the weak. With the attitude shown in this passage, though, they probably did not care as long as their "needs" were met.
The word translated "fishhooks" (verse 2) is quite obscure in the Hebrew, but it suggests that these lazy women will be ignominiously herded into captivity. Some have suggested it means carried away on the shields of their enemies or pulled on a leash.
In any case, those who formerly lay on the beds of ivory and on plush couches, pandering to themselves, will be led in humiliation through Samaria and into slavery. Isaiah also describes the same scene in Isaiah 3:16-26. Because of their oppression and their haughty self-concern, their riches and beauty will be stripped away, and they will be left with nothing.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
Paul admonishes us not to esteem ourselves too much, an attitude that leads to vanity and arrogance.
Yet, is that not what is being pushed in our society today? A central premise in education and childrearing is instilling self-esteem in our youth, supposedly to give them confidence and motivation to succeed in life. There is no surer method to produce competition and strife! The Word of God, on the other hand, teaches us:
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself (Philippians 2:3).
This latter attitude produces peace, cooperation, and unity.
Martin G. Collins
2 Timothy 3:1-5
Paul writes that in the last days selfishness will appear as self-love, self-seeking, and selfish ambition at an unprecedented level. Some will not reciprocate loving deeds, not seeing what they receive but only what more they can get. Selfishness is having too much concern with one's welfare or interests and too little or none for others. We often refer to this type of person as self-centered, self-absorbed, and self-serving.
Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 7): Selfishness
Self-Seeking - A speaker once said, "Young people feel like they have to 'find themselves,' so they search this and that, here and there, all in an effort to 'find themselves.' So, what if you spend all this time and energy to find yourself, and in the end you discover nobody's home?"
Humorous but so true! The loneliest people on the planet are those focused on themselves. If I am brutally honest in recalling the lonelier times of my life, I was lonely mostly because I was focused too much on myself. We learn to recognize self-focused people by their constant talking about themselves, their achievements, their experiences, their things, their opinions. They drone on endlessly.
One author writes, "People sometimes talk about themselves because there is nothing else rattling around in their heads." Such people usually have a better way of doing almost everything, yet one often wonders why they are not more successful in life. They ache to express an opinion and believe in their abilities so wholeheartedly that they must be restrained from taking charge. One learns that, when around them, a person's value is significant only in regard to their personal plans, and they will seldom alter their course to fit another in.
Test: How much of our needs and desires fills our agenda each day? Conversely, how much room do we make for others? I used to say with pride, "I usually don't do anything I don't want to do." I meant that I was master of my choices and in control of my life, but I was actually saying, "My plans, ideas, and schedule are far more important than anyone else's."
Are You Sharp-Tongued? (Part Two)
For the seed which one day produces the reward which righteousness brings can only be sown when personal relationships are right and by those whose conduct produces such relationships. (James 3:18; William Barclay's Daily Bible Study)
In this verse, James is talking about a social situation. God's purpose - the fruit that He wants from His way of life, the kind of character that He wants in us - has to be produced in peace. It cannot be produced in war.
Why it cannot be produced in war is obvious. When one is involved in war, he is thinking only of himself, which runs 180 degrees counter to God's nature. God's nature is outgoing. When one is engaged in war, all one is seeking to do is to preserve the self. For God's purpose to be fulfilled to the very best degree, peace is required.
The seed, which one day produces the reward that righteousness brings, can only be sown when personal relationships are right, and by those whose conduct will produce such relationships.
Jesus says that peacemakers will be the children of God, not those who butt others aside, aggressively trying to get to the top, asserting themselves, their will, and their ideas in every circumstance, angling to be the big shot. "Out of my way, buddy. That is my beat." Those people, by implication, will not see God.
This is why God will permit a divorce. Does He not say through Paul in I Corinthians 7:15, "If the unbeliever departs, let him depart"? The believer "is not under bondage in such cases" because "God has called us to peace." God will permit a divorce so that a person can be saved due to the subsequent peace. In a family in which a war rages between a husband and wife, it is possible that God may lose both of them.
When those who butt and disturb the flock are present, the flock will not prosper. The shepherd has to ensure that there is peace, freedom from fear from the outside, freedom from tension within, and freedom from aggravation. (We even use the term "bug," which is what insects do to sheep: They irritate them to no end so they cannot gain weight and are discontented.) The shepherd must also make sure there is freedom from hunger - a congregation, a flock, will prosper if it is being well-fed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 23 (Part One)
Verse 15 emphasizes ungodliness. These false ministers are the total opposite of what God is, and if we know what God is—what godliness is—then we can identify and avoid them.
Jude then gives four more descriptors to help us identify false teachers: 1) They are discontented murmurers and complainers. They always have something to gripe about. Discontent with their lot in life, they find fault with everything. Nothing is ever right for them. 2) They live to satisfy their every desire, a trait Jude has already explained thoroughly. 3) They speak bombastic bragging words, and 4) they are respecters of persons, if it will benefit them. They will do anything to get ahead.
In verse 17, we were warned that such people will enter the church and try to ruin it, so we have no excuse. They are here already, and we need to make sure they do not stay here by keeping an eye out for them and giving no quarter to them when they begin their ungodly work.
Jude then gives three final descriptions of them in verse 19. He calls them 1) "sensual" or worldly. They are based totally in this world, in the realm of the five senses. They have no connection to the heavenly. 2) They "cause divisions," meaning when they appear, the congregation begins taking sides. 3) He ends his description with the opposite of his description of true church members in verse 1: False teachers do not have God's Spirit. They are not of us. They may be among us, but they are not God's spiritual children (Romans 8:9-17). We can see from their fruits that the spirit they have is not God's.
With these descriptions of false teachers, we can be more confident in testing the spirits (I John 3:24; 4:1-6).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
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